Mind-Benders-Logo

 

Welcome to your ninth edition of Mind Bend-ers, a special feature offering you the inside scoop on quirky Bend history and offbeat trivia.

Ever notice how historical tidbits that aren’t actually true can be repeated so often people start to believe them?

It happens often with Bend history, but the myth-busters at the Deschutes County Historical Society have donned their capes and superhero spandex to help us wage war on these so-called “facts.” Here’s the real truth behind several of the peskiest untrue historical Bend tales.

 

Fake history “fact” #1:  Amelia Earhart lived in Bend

FALSE! But here’s the truth:

George and Dorothy's house on Congress Street in Bend.
George and Dorothy’s house on Congress Street in Bend (where, for the record, Amelia Earhart never set foot).

George Putnam moved to Bend in 1909 and became a prominent member of the community. As editor and publisher of the Bend Bulletin, he married Dorothy Binney (heiress of Crayola Crayons) in 1911 and became the town’s youngest mayor in 1912.

So what does all this have to do with Amelia Earhart? We’re getting to that.

George and Dorothy settled into a lovely home on Congress Street in Bend, and things hummed along okay for the next few years. George’s political work landed him in Salem often, and he spent a lot of time traveling as a war correspondent.

George and Dorothy in happier times in Bend.
George and Dorothy in happier times during their days in Bend.

Then George’s dad died in 1917, followed by his brother’s death in 1918. Knowing he needed to take charge of the family business, George sold his shares in the Bulletin, packed up his family, sold his house in Bend, and headed for New York in 1919. That’s where he met a young aviator named Amelia Earhart, and eventually became her publicist.

Things weren’t going so great in George and Dorothy’s marriage by then. She admits in her diaries she was having an affair with a man 19 years her junior, and she asked George for a divorce several times. In 1929, he agreed.

By then, things were getting hot and heavy between Amelia and George. He proposed to her three different times, and she finally said yes in 1931. They married in Connecticut, and settled down on the East Coast.

To the best of anyone’s knowledge, Amelia never set foot in Bend. Her marriage to George happened over a decade after he left Oregon, making it more than a little perplexing that folks lay claim to the famed aviator as a Central Oregon resident.

 

Fake history “fact #2:  Brooks Scanlon won Bend’s mill rights on a coin toss

FALSE! But here’s the truth:

Bend was a booming lumber town in the early 1900s, and there was plenty of business to go around for a pair of rival mills. Brooks-Scanlon operated on the east side of the river, and Shevlin-Hixon did their thing on the west bank. It’s possible they occasionally hurled things at each other, but we don’t want to start rumors.

The Shevlin-Hixon Mill on the Deschutes River in 1917.
The Shevlin-Hixon Mill on the Deschutes River in 1917.

Things turned sour in the late 1940s when it became clear there wasn’t enough timber to go around. There was only room for one lumber mill in Bend, so they had to find a fair way to determine who’d stay. A mud wrestling tournament? A spitting contest? A coin toss?

See, this is how rumors get started.

Turns out the reality was a whole lot simpler. Mr. Shevlin was in ill-health at that point, and some dissension within his company made it a good time to cut and run. They sold the whole operation to Brooks Scanlon in 1950. Since Brooks-Scanlon only wanted the timber, they pretty much abandoned the Shevlin-Hixon Mill and all the brand new equipment the Shevlin folks had just purchased.

The Shevlin-Hixon buildings were razed for good in the 1980s, and today you can walk your dog, dine at a nice restaurant, or enjoy some world-class shopping in Bend’s Old Mill District.

 

Fake history “fact” #3:  Klondike Kate ran a brothel

FALSE! But here’s the truth:

Kate Rockwell earned the nickname Klondike Kate during her illustrious career as a vaudeville performer and showgirl in Alaska, and she moved to Central Oregon in 1910.

Klondike Kate was not a hooker. We promise.
Klondike Kate was not a hooker. We promise.

She was a colorful character who rolled cigarettes with one hand, married (and divorced) a man half her age, and revisited her days as an entertainer by strolling around Downtown Bend in her showgirl costumes.

As you might imagine, that didn’t always sit well with the prim and proper ladies of Bend, who occasionally spread rumors that Kate was either running a brothel or offering her own services as a lady of ill-repute.

In reality, Kate was just a spirited woman who spit, cussed, wrangled cattle, and picked up bums to do work on her home in Downtown Bend. She also nursed Spanish influenza victims and did a lot of charity for the Bend Fire Department, which put her in close contact with a lot of the town’s strapping young men. Can’t fault a girl for looking, right?

In any case, there’s no record of Kate Rockwell ever having any connection at all to prostitution, but because the nickname “Klondike Kate” is kinda catchy, records indicate several other women claimed it for themselves. There’s no saying for sure what those gals got up to while masked in the cloak of the pseudonym, but rest assured, the real Klondike Kate was neither a hooker nor a madam.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *